We all know the story of Alexander Hamilton and, thanks to playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway smash bearing Hamilton’s name, the score. On July 11, 1804, Hamilton was fatally wounded in a duel by his longtime rival Aaron Burr, or, in Miranda’s unforgettable lyrics, the “damn fool that shot him.”
But someone else was at the duel in Weehawken, New Jersey — Dr. David Hosack, a former Columbia College student who served for years as Hamilton’s — and Burr’s — family doctor. He studied under New York Hospital’s founder and George Washington’s personal physician, Samuel Bard, and was also on hand for 19-year-old Philip Hamilton’s duel in 1801, where Philip suffered a mortal wound on the same grounds where his father would be shot three years later.
“It was during the yellow fever epidemic of 1798 that Dr. Hosack became closer with Hamilton,” says Lisa Mix, head of Medical Center Archives at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, “because Hamilton’s son Philip almost succumbed to the yellow fever epidemic. And David Hosack saved his life.”
In addition to witnessing Hamilton’s death, Dr. Hosack was a historic figure in his own right. An educator and bon vivant who earned upward of $10,000 a year — a princely sum in those days — he hosted salons in his well-appointed townhouse and entertained the day’s leading intellectuals and artists, including novelist Washington Irving, poet William Cullen Bryant and Samuel Morse, a painter and the inventor of the telegraph.